Monday, December 24, 2007

The catch-22 of 2.0?

Isn't all this 2.0 stuff wonderful? Tools that promote the creation, reorganization, re-imagining, meshing and sharing of all kinds of information in all kinds of different and exciting ways can't be a bad thing, can it? I'm certainly an avid cheerleader for all this, but I do think there are some possible downsides to consider from a library institutional perspective before we invest ourselves too deeply in all this.

But I must state up front that I do have some bias. Diving full-force into this 2.0 world of endlessly creative possibilities has resparked my love for my chosen profession, as I imagine it has for at least some other librarians out there. To me, this opening of service creativity has allowed us to finally and definitively break free of the confines of the physical book and the stodgy and user-incomprehensible organizational schemes dating back to the 19th century. It has hopefully also contributed to the beginning of the end for the popular view of the library as simply "the place where they store the books," and has helped us vastly expand the possibilities and just-in-time usefulness of the previously limiting and overly formal librarian-user and user-information interactions.

But I do worry a bit about the long-term outcomes of all this rapid adoption of mostly unestablished 2.0 applications. What percentage of our best-intentioned efforts to design more effective user-info applications will be destroyed or made quickly obsolete by the inevitable death or commercialization of many of these 2.0 tools, incompatible or non-existent technology and organizational standards, the arrival of 3.0 (some aspects of which I am skeptical of ever arriving, however), and the inevitable wearing off of the "wow" factor? And how about long-term maintenance, scalability and portability issues? Are they being considered and planned for in your development cycle? I certainly try to plan for them, but the reality is that it isn't always possible - pressures of time and money and rapid change make this hard.

In the end, our efforts will go on and are essential to improving services. As Meredith Farkas wrote recently, it's also essential for us to share our failures as much as our successes. More than likely all these issues will work themselves out with some 2.0 technologies falling to the wayside and others moving on and evolving into the coming 3.0 world. Those will take their place in the always expanding suite of available online information applications, alongside web sites, OPACs, virtual reference, etc. I think it is a useful exercise to consider these longer-term issues now and ideally plan for them as much as possible in the development cycle.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

map mash-up of medical libraries in NYS

[update on this: this application already exists here! Not sure yet if I'm more relieved I don't have to spend time to build it or depressed because I don't get a chance to play with the technology...]

I want to create an interactive map mash-up that uses a map of NY State and shows the location of medical/health and SUNY/CUNY libraries. Each location would include links to the library web site as well as their catalog and perhaps display their hours of operation when applicable (and of course, a way to get directions to each).

This would be an application for our upcoming nursing bachelor's program, to which I am liaison. The students will primarily be adult distance learners (those working in the field with an RN already) and spread throughout the state and beyond. We have an extensive online library, but our students do have the occasional need to consult a print book or journal, so having such an application would be valuable.

However, at first glance it appears that one must have some knowledge of JavaScript (or PHP) in order to manipulate the Google or Yahoo API directly and create such an application that way. Alas I don't have such knowledge at present (although learning Javascript basics is at the top of my prof dev list!).

On the other hand, I have found a couple possible programs that do most of the programming work for you that I think could work:
I actually just now found an application for metro NYC libraries that is almost exactly what I would want on a state-wide scale and uses Community Walk.

Has anyone used some of these applications and have a preference? Are there hidden disadvantages to some of these? I'm being purely lazy here and hoping to cut the corner of having to evaluate and compare them myself...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

initial thoughts on Second Life

In following up with the last post, in which NPR talks briefly about Second Life:

I have to say at this point, I'm still up in the air about use of Second Life in the library beyond very, very limited and experimental instructional purposes. I think this kind of technology definitely has usefulness and vast potential, but who knows if Second Life will be the lasting platform to deliver it? I would be hesitant to spend any significant amounts of money or time developing content there if it is going to go the way of VHS or MySpace. It's a really cool toy at present for those of us who are geeks at heart, but I haven't seen many uses of it that go much beyond presenting 2-D info in a 3-D environment (example: embedding a power point in a virtual world - I can't think of a dumber use of this technology!)

Does Second Life use standard programming, such as some sort of xml-like language (please excuse my ignorance of this since I have no knowledge of the Second Life back end) for content so that it might in the future be easily ported over to a different system? For example, if I created a detailed, modular, immersive instructional experience, for example, covering various aspects of information literacy and understanding and using library resources, and then Second Life went out of business, could I easily move that experience over to the next virtual platform?

If not, is such a standard for virtual content possible? If not, that to me would be huge stumbling block to widely adopting such kinds of virtual technologies and platforms given their ever changing nature.

Interesting NPR story on distance ed

If you missed it, you can listen to the audio for the 2 parts of this interesting NPR story on distance education at the University of Illinois-Springfield here:

It talks about use of Second Life as well.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Custom browser toolbar creation software?

I have found only one free tool for easily creating a customized browser toolbar that doesn't require programming skills: Conduit.

And I created what I think is a fairly useful toolbar for our library given the limitations (and that can be added to Firefox or IE). It includes a search box for our federated search and search options for several of our other tools, in addition to a drop down display feed for our research blog and a button to "ask a librarian." It also automatically propagates any updates to everyone who has downloaded it and allows the end-user to add other buttons as well, like for Word or Excel. The two major shortcomings of this tool are:
  1. Limited branding - especially that there isn't the ability to add a logo or play with the fonts and colors of the tool.
  2. The default search is for Google. Ideally, I'd want it to search our E-book catalog or at least Google Scholar and it also doesn't allow me to move that search box to the right and put the federated search box in it's place.
Having said that, I think it's worth using, but so far my boss hasn't been real supportive. I could see creating a suite of these, based on broad subject categories that search or link to the major resources in that subject. Are there other free or cheap, but easy to use browser toolbar creation tools out there that people know about that address these shortcomings?

And finally, how are people promoting/marketing the use of these both to students and perhaps more prominently, faculty? The tact I can think of is as a time- and effort-saver. Do your research from anywhere! Avoid having to sift through the library web site. That sort of thing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Flickr Group-Map Apps?

I had the idea today of using the Flickr group and map applications as a centerpiece to try and build an online community for the college. Since most of our students are working adults and never see each other and are spread out all over the state, the country and even the world, the opportunity to see other student pictures and bios and where they fall on the map might be a good hook to build student participation.

The biggest obstacle in my opinion with our older student population (ave. age is c. 34) is getting them to buy into it. There are obvious time and technophobia issues with a percentage of this age group, but the recent report from Lee Raine on "2.0 and the Internet World" (via iLibrarian) has changed my opinion on this a little more. Sizable percentages of adults are now using social software and reading, tagging and creating content. Not to say that many of our students are on Facebook just yet, but there may be an opening here to begin to grow student involvement and community (which I think is almost non-existent at our institution).

Is anyone else trying this kind of thing with Flickr or a similar tool? Would it be better if bundled in with a more fleshed out suite of 2.0 apps like blogs, wikis, social networking, content tagging, etc? How might you go about marketing such a feature to distance learners? What kinds of privacy and security issues (such as posting of inappropriate content) would be involved in such a purely voluntary application?

Another library blog?

Yup - you got it, punk. Yet another blog from a librarian. On here I hope to talk mostly about issues surrounding academic distance librarianship. I work in an academic library that has no (physical) books and most of our students are working adults who take at least some if not all of their classes online.

Anyways, I always have lots of ideas and wanted a venue to try and flesh them out and hopefully get some discussion going among colleagues out there interested in issues surrounding the distance learning environment and libraries, such library 2.0, information literacy, library marketing, etc.

I've been a blogger for about 4 years and you can read about my (harrowing? disturbing? boring?) personal journeys on my personal blog here: The Disobedient Librarian.